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Pentagon to give Ukraine $300 million in weapons

Ukrainian soldiers from The 56th Separate Motorized Infantry Mariupol Brigade prepare to fire a multiple launch rocket system based on a pickup truck towards Russian positions at the front line, near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, March 5, 2024.
Efrem Lukatsky
/
AP
Ukrainian soldiers from The 56th Separate Motorized Infantry Mariupol Brigade prepare to fire a multiple launch rocket system based on a pickup truck towards Russian positions at the front line, near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, March 5, 2024.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will rush about $300 million in weapons to Ukraine after finding some cost savings in its contracts, even though the military remains deeply overdrawn and needs at least $10 billion to replenish all the weapons it has pulled from its stocks to help Kyiv in its desperate fight against Russia, the White House announced Tuesday.

It's the Pentagon's first announced security package for Ukraine since December, when it acknowledged it was out of replenishment funds. It wasn't until recent days that officials publicly acknowledged they weren't just out of money to buy replacement weapons, they are $10 billion overdrawn.

The announcement comes as Ukraine is running dangerously low on munitions and efforts to get fresh funds for weapons have stalled in the House because of Republican opposition. U.S. officials have insisted for months that the United States wouldn't be able to resume weapons deliveries until Congress provided the additional replenishment funds, which are part of the stalled supplemental spending bill.

The replenishment funds have allowed the Pentagon to pull existing munitions, air defense systems and other weapons from its reserve inventories under presidential drawdown authority, or PDA, to send to Ukraine and then sign contracts to order replacements, which are needed to maintain U.S. military readiness.

"When Russian troops advance and its guns fire, Ukraine does not have enough ammunition to fire back," said national security adviser Jake Sullivan in announcing the $300 million in additional aid.

The Pentagon also has had a separate Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, or USAI, which has allowed it to fund longer-term contracts with industry to produce new weapons for Ukraine.

Senior defense officials who briefed reporters said the Pentagon was able to get cost savings in some of those longer-term contracts of roughly $300 million and, given the battlefield situation, decided to use those savings to send more weapons. The officials said the cost savings basically offset the new package and keep the replenishment spending underwater at $10 billion.

One of the officials said the package represented a "one time shot" — unless Congress passes the supplemental spending bill, which includes roughly $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine, or more cost savings are found. It is expected to include anti-aircraft missiles, artillery rounds and armor systems, the official said.

"This is not a sustainable way to support Ukraine," said Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, calling it a "one time good deal" that officials can't plan on occurring again.

The aid announcement came as Polish leaders were in Washington to press the U.S. to break its impasse over funds for Ukraine at a critical moment in the war. Polish President Andrzej Duda met Tuesday with President Joe Biden after meeting with Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate earlier in the day.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has so far refused to bring the $95 billion package, which includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, to the floor. Seeking to put pressure on the Republican speaker, House Democrats have launched a long-shot effort to force a vote through a discharge petition. The seldom-successful procedure would require support from a majority of lawmakers, or 218 members, to move the aid package to a vote.

Ukraine's situation has become more dire, with units on the front line rationing munitions as they face a vastly better supplied Russian force. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly implored Congress for help, but House Republican leadership has not been willing to bring the Ukraine aid to the floor for a vote, saying any aid must first address border security needs.

Pentagon officials said Monday during budget briefings that they were counting on the supplemental to cover the $10 billion replenishment hole.

"If we don't get the $10 billion we would have to find other means," Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said. "Right now we're very much focused on the need for that supplemental."

This is the second time in less than nine months that the Pentagon has "found" money to use for additional weapons shipments to Ukraine. Last June, defense officials said they had overestimated the value of the weapons the U.S. had sent to Ukraine by $6.2 billion over the past two years.

At the time, Pentagon officials said a review found that the military services used replacement costs rather than the book value of equipment that was pulled from Pentagon stocks and sent to Ukraine. The discovery resulted in a surplus that the department used for presidential drawdown packages until the end of December.

The United States has committed more than $44.9 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including more than $44.2 billion since the beginning of Russia's invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

The Pentagon is $10 billion overdrawn in the replenishment account in part due to inflationary pressures, and in part because the new systems the Pentagon is seeking to replace the old systems with cost more, such as the upcoming Precision Strike Missile, or PrSM, which the Army is buying to replace the long-range Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS.

The vast majority of those munitions have come from Army stockpiles due to the nature of the conventional land war in Ukraine.

The months without further shipments of U.S. support have hurt operations, and Ukrainian troops withdrew from the eastern city of Avdiivka last month, where outnumbered defenders had withheld a Russian assault for four months.

CIA Director William Burns told Congress that entire Ukrainian units have told him in recent days of being down to their last few dozen artillery shells and other ammunition. Burns called the retreat from Avdiivka a failure of ammunition resupply, not a failure of Ukrainian will.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press